Sunday, January 31, 2010

One From The Vault

I am still digging deep into my cellar. Last night I found a 1990 Wynns Michael Hermitage. The previous wine in this series was from 1954. They obviously thought the exceptional fruit of 1990 deserved a revival of this label. Yet, this was also one of the most over-oaked wines I had ever come across.

How does it drink now? The good news is, the wine is still standing strong, with a mighty structure, not dissimilar to older Grange, actually. However, the flavour profile remains unappealing. The oak is still dominant, there is smoke and a fair bit of mint. The underlying fruit is not very differentiated. It would go well with well done meat on the barbie.

I have never had a younger 'Michael' and would be interested to know if the oak treatment has been moderated since 1990.

Score: 93/--

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bannockburn Shiraz

This is one of the most unusual and definitely Australia's anti terroir wine. If you were asked in a multi choice question "does this wine come from Western Australia, Victoria, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Cooawarra or all of the above", how many would have said "all of the above"? They would have been right.

90% of Bannockburn's 98 crop was destroyed by a hailstorm, but many companies agreed to provide grapes to help them out. They are listed on the back of the bottle (sorry about the photo quality, I had no proper camera with me), among them BRL Hardy, Cape Mentelle, Charlie Melton, Dalwhinnie, Henschke, Jasper Hill, Katnook, Mt. Langi, Rockford, Taltarni, Yalumba. What a who's who of wineries!

Is this wine disjointed? Not at all. This 1998 Bannockburn Shiraz is bright, brimming with redcurrant fruit, very fresh. It goes beautifully along the palate, and finishes with very graceful, but firm tannins. The winemaking here is excellent. This was drunk from Magnum, and the wine has many years of life still in it.

Score: 96/++

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shaw &Smith Sauvignon Blanc

A patriotic post should be allowed on Australia Day. You heard about the NZ wine tsunami, the unstoppable wave of their Sauvignon Blancs. Please, do yourself a favour and drink a real good one, the 2009 Shaw & Smith Sauvignon Blanc from the Adelaide Hills.

This wine is very harmonious. It tastes of gooseberry, like they all do, but it is not overly aggressive and acidic, yet still refreshing. The best feature is its mouth feel, really head and shoulders above most sauvignons. If you must drink one, drink this Aussie beauty.

Score: 92/++

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Laughing Jack Shiraz

Laughing Jack is another of the up and comers. The vineyards are located in the Moppa region of the Barossa Valley. The 2008 Jack's Shiraz has young and vibrant fruit, brimming with plum, blackberry and some mint flavours. It has good oak to support the fruit, and while the wine is quite high in alcohol, it is not hot. There is some sweetness in the wine, and it finishes with fine tannins.

I would call this a high quality barbecue wine, well put together and a steal for $20/bottle.

Sometimes it is well worth while to check out the 2nd and 3rd tier wines of those South Australian wineries which produce highly concentrated wines. They are not a meal on their own, but still full bodied, and quite appealing when drunk young.

Score: 91/++

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lethbridge Chardonnay

If you ask me to name five young wineries which will make their mark on Australian wine in the next five years, I would nominate Lethbridge amongst them. They have a strong focus on terroir and minimal handling.

Unfortunately, the 2006 Lethbridge Chardonnay does not quite live up to this expectation. The wine is surprisingly developed for its age. Its strong citrus flavours are getting a honeyed coating. However, the wine is not creamy. It is fairly linear (in a good way). The wine's acidity seems a bit high, and in the end, this Chardonnay does not have much charm.

There are opportunities to improve this style, and once this has happened, it will be quite attractive.

Score: 89/0

In an earlier post, I commented on some of their more recent wines, which show good improvement.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Penfolds 707 Cabernet Sauvignon

The 1998 Penfolds 707 Cabernet Sauvignon is without question a remarkable and outstanding wine.

It is still drinking extremely young, in fact I will keep my remaining bottles for five years, I think. The wine has a monumental structure. Incredibly deep fruit flavours of blackcurrant and black cherry are matched by new oak and quite broad tannins. The length of the wine is quite amazing, more than any other Australian Cabernet I have ever tasted. There is no letting off on the mid palate.

The question I have is, is this a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon? There is not really anything like it. Bordeaux wines are not as big and muscular, American wines are sweeter, and Coonawarra and Margaret River are generally leaner and more elegant. So, it is hard to say. This wine is quite unique. It is well structured, very big and long lasting, but maybe a little too much of everything for me.

Score: 97/0

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Barossa Valley Estate E&E Black Pepper Shiraz

The 1998 Barossa Valley Estate E&E Shiraz is a full bodied Shiraz, ripe, but not overextracted. It tastes of blackberries, plum and mocca, with earthy overtones - a nice palate. The wine has great harmony between fruit, savoury flavours and oak. The tannins are strong, but have softened over the years. The wine has good length and does not finish too dry.

This is an excellent example how a full bodied Shiraz from the Barossa can taste and be enjoyed. BVE do not get it right every year, but their 1998 is very good indeed.

Score: 96/+

Friday, January 15, 2010

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir.

I knocked off my oldest bottle of Pinot Noir tonight, a 2000 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir. This wine is brilliant. Similar to the Aurora, reviewed below, the cherry fruit is now in the background, replaced by wonderful complex forest floor flavours. The wine is alive and has this ethereal character, present in great Pinot. The wine retains interest as it rolls down the palate. The tannins are very silky, leading to a long finish.

I have always thought that Martinborough is the best Pinot Noir region in the Southern Hemisphere or at least Ata Rangi and Martinborough Vineyard are two very outstanding producers. Why don't I buy more of their wines? Big mistake.

This was a terrific experience.

Score: 96/+++

Savaterre Chardonnay

Savaterre is a quiet producer from Beechworth with high quality aspirations (and a very high lying vineyard). It wants to produce aging Chardonnay in a French style.

My first experience is the 2004 Savaterre Chardonnay. Its colour is already quite golden and developed, while it was very pale when I bought the wine. The fruit is not the feature of this wine, but there are traces of apricot, peach, and apple.

The wine has a good mouthfeel and length, but where is the taste? There is a lot of oak and some minerality leading to a somewhat acidic finish. Overall, a bit disappointing. The structure is holding up, but I would have expected a more graceful development. A Giaconda it is not.

Score: 92/-

Aurora Vineyard Pinot Noir

A good way of judging a new producer is to drink a wine which is at least seven years old. I managed to get a bottle of the 2002 Aurora Vineyard Pinot Noir, which I believe was their first year under their own label.

The cherry fruit of this wine has moved into the background, but the structure is holding up well, supported, I believe, by the minerality and the soft tannins on the finish. The secondary, in particular earthy flavours dominate now, but they are not dull. The wine is smooth and still shows some acidity.

As the vineyard ages, these flavours will probably become more complex and differentiated, but there is the start of some good terroir based wine here. I have commented on this new producer before, and this bottle confirms to me the promise this wine holds. Highly recommended!

Score: 94/++

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Screw cap or what?

Over the last couple of days, I drank the 2004 Giaconda Chardonnay from a bottle under screw cap and a bottle under cork. They tasted exactly the same. In fact, they were closer together than what one may find in bottle variations under the same closure.

Wine writers want you to believe that white wines under screw cap are 'fresher' and more exciting. It may be so that delicate white wines, which have never seen oak, are better off not coming into contact with oak. And for those who don't know it, the ratio of wood surface to wine volume is actually higher in the bottle than in a wine barrel. But I have yet to find evidence that a good cork is bad for wine which has been in oak barrels. I tend to think that the maturing of wine under cork creates more interesting and complex wine than under screw cap.

My prediction is this: In ten years, premium wine, made to last, say above $30 per bottle, will not be under screw cap. Red wine's closure will be a much improved cork. White wine will have glass or other closures which do not include chemicals. YOU READ IT HERE FIRST!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Penfolds Grenache

The 2002 Penfolds Cellar Reserve Grenache is the only straight Grenache ever made by Penfolds, to my knowledge. This is not a typical Penfolds wine. It is very ripe and fruit concentrated. It feels like a couple of guys got together after two days of blending and decided to do some mischief.

The wine is funky, neither fined nor filtered. It is a great example of Australian Grenache. It has a sweet raspberry core. This wine is quite musky, with earthy nuances. It will probably live another three to five years at the current level.

Score: 94/++

Monday, January 4, 2010

Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon

Other than the Pinot Noirs from 2007 discussed below, I only own a few American Cabernet Sauvignons from a couple of suppliers from the very good 1997 vintage in Nappa.

Yesterday, I had my last bottle of the 1997 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon. I got a little worried as I decanted the wine. Amongst the dark inkish tones were aspects of brown and orange. This should not happen for a 12 year old premium Cabernet. As it turned out, there was no major fault, but what I would call flaws in the wine making.

The wine showed strong violets on the nose and equally on the palate. The fruit was redcurrant, however, it was very ripe and tasted quite dead. The tannin structure was holding up well, but the wine was falling in a gaping hole on the mid-palate. It had some length after that, but not much flavour, which also meant the alcohol was very much present.

Overall, a good illustration of Nappa Cabernet and why most people like to drink these wines early. They are built for the moment and not made to last.

Score: 89/--

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Kosta Browne Pinot Noir

I must admit I sometimes succumb to the allurement of cult wines. In the first instance, it is the challenge to get them, because they are always rare. They don't normally disappoint entirely. It is a bonus, if they are really good.

One such wine is currently the Pinot Noir from Kosta Browne. I put myself on the waitlist for the mailing list some three years ago and got lucky to receive an allocation of some 2007 Pinot Noir last year (I think the GFC helped). The other piece of luck was that 2007 was an outstanding Pinot Noir vintage in California.

Yesterday, I had my first bottle of the 2007 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. This is one of the two 'standard' wines. It was judged the 4th best wine of 2009 by Wine Spectator.

The wine opens with a very big and strong bouquet. The fruit flavours are predominantly red cherry, but also raspberry and apricot. There is a lot of complexity here. In addition to the full fruit flavours, there is a lot of spice, in particular pepper and cinnamon, also incence. The wine is not sweet, it has strong, but not coarse tannins. The wine has great length and quite a fan, as you would expect from good Pinot Noir.

This is an excellent wine. It has some 'full on' characteristics, as you would expect from premium California wine, but there is a lot of subtlety there as well. The wine is varietal, but definitely different from Australian Pinot Noir, in particular in relation to mouthfeel and length. I thoroughly enjoyed this drink, but I will put the other bottles away for a little while, as the wine should further improve with bottle age.

Score: 96/++

Bottle Shock

Saw the film Bottle Shock on DVD yesterday. It chronicles the events leading to the legendary 1976 Paris tasting, where California wines outperformed the French for the first time.

It is interesting to see what casting and directing deficiencies you can detect when a film does not have a blockbuster budget or art house talent. Nonetheless, if you are interested in the history of wine, with some entertainment thrown in, you can do worse than watch this movie. If some of the details are true, for example how the wines got on the plane, and the browning of the Chardonnay, it is amazing the event took place at all.